The pathway to professional sports is often riddled with difficult choices full of risks, particularly when the path is one that takes you away from where you grew up.
18-year-old Kieron Windless, from north west London, has recently made a big jump to move from his home here, to play basketball at SPIRE in Ohio, USA.
SPIRE is an academy that bases its foundation on sports, but aims to support all individuals through training, education and competition.
The basketball programme has NBA Hall of Famer and defensive great Dikembe Mutombo as ambassador, while being the high school team of Charlotte Hornets’ All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball.
Basketball was a part of Kieron’s life since birth as his father Tony Windless, a name known to fans of the British Basketball League, played professionally for 17 years in England and France.
Kieron started his own journey playing for the London Pioneers at the age of five and played for his high school’s varsity team from year 10 to 13.
It was around year 11 that Kieron and his family started thinking about a change, looking into high schools in the USA to pursue a better path for basketball during his last two years prior to college, when SPIRE came to attention.
What convinced the young Englishman was not only SPIRE’s top-class facilities but also a Zoom meeting with the post-grad team’s head coach, Jeff Sparrow.
A shared passion and appreciation for each other’s game/coaching was enough to take a jump for a post-grad year in Ohio, after finishing high school at home, playing his last games before leaving the area he grew up in.
“I did not get to visit the campus which was scary, but it was a chance that I had to take,” Windless said.
This wouldn’t be his first foray to the States, as Global Squad, an AAU team based in Seattle, scouted him during year 9.
While a big adjustment, life in a new country has been going well for him despite struggling with an knee injury picked in his last year in the UK.
Just like his choice to arrive at SPIRE, the coaching has been important to Windless, who praised Coach Sparrow and Coach Michael Dooley.
“It has been great being coached by them, they have definitely helped me improve my understanding of the game. From individual player meetings, to practices to film sessions, it has all been helpful,” Windless said.
“They’re never too negative and they never let you get too high or too low, just keeping you at the spot you need to be at in order to keep working.”
The coaches feel similarly as Dooley equally praised Windless on his attitude and abilties, both as a player and person, with high expectations after his injury recovery.
He said: “Kieron is a fantastic player and person. He holds himself to a high standard on and off the court.
“We fully anticipate Kieron playing well for us this second semester and landing on a college basketball roster next fall.”
Besides on-court, the SPIRE life off-court has taught Windless plenty from living with his teammates in a dorm to skills like time management, all in preparation for a similar style of life in college.
For now, Windless wants to keep his focus in improve himself both physically and mentally while earning a scholarship for college basketball and his degree.
As for any dreams about the NBA, Windless keeps his head calm around the idea but does dream of a professional career.
“It would always be great but you have to sometimes be realistic at this point,” he said. “But I would love to play professional basketball overseas, anywhere like Spain, France.”
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Featured image credit: SPIRE Institute